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What was the constitutional convention and why did the U.S. need it?
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The Constitutional Convention was a response to the need of creating a governing document for the United States government. The first conventions created the Articles of Confederation, however, these documents were weak in power since states had too much power in relation to any central government. Since, so many powers such as the ability to coin money and organize an army were left to individual states, the economy and political stability of the nation was fragile. Hence, the Constitutional Conventions convening after the Revolutionary War took upon the most bold ideas of how to create a centralized government.
For instance, the three branches of government were formalized in the first three Articles of the new US Constitution with separation of powers and checks and balances built in to prevent and regulate corruption. Representation was key in these debates and the bicameral legislative body we know today as the US Congress was theorized and created during this meeting at the convention.
The US Constitutional Conventions were held to create formal documents that would outline how the government of the United States would run as the US gained independence from England's colonial rule.
The Constitutional Convention 1787
Fifty-five delegates from 12 states moved quickly to develop a new structure for the government.
The Virginia Plan
The early debates centered on a proposal by James Madison known as the Virginia Plan. Supported by the large states, it called for a bicameral (two-house) legislature empowered to make laws. The lower house was elected by voters in each state, and the upper house was chosen by the lower house from candidates nominated by the state legislatures. Representation in both houses was based on population. The executive was chosen by the legislature for one term and was responsible for executing all laws. The legislature also appointed the judges to one or more supreme courts and lower national courts. A Council of Revision made up of the executive and judges could veto laws passed by the legislature or the states; a vote by both houses was needed to override a veto by the Council.
The New Jersey Plan
The small states supported a less radical departure from the Articles of Confederation. The New Jersey Plan kept the one-house legislature, with its powers expanded to include raising revenue and regulating commerce. Each state had one vote, and the members were chosen by the state legislatures. A multiperson executive elected by the legislature was proposed. The executives, who were removable by action of the majority of the governors, also appointed judges to the Supreme Court. Laws passed by the legislature were binding on the states, and the multiperson executive was authorized to compel obedience to the law.
The Great Compromise
The New Jersey Plan was rejected, but the apportionment of representation in Congress continued to divide the Convention. The large states wanted proportional representation (by population), and the small states demanded equal representation (one state, one vote). The Great Compromise (also known as the Connecticut Compromise) provided that seats in the House of Representatives would be apportioned according to the population of each state, with members elected directly by the people. In the Senate, each state would have two senators, voting independently, chosen by their legislatures.
Decisions on slavery
Slaves were a significant percentage of the population in the Southern states. The issue of whether or how to count slaves was resolved by a formula used by Congress in 1783. For purposes of representation in the House and assessing direct taxes to the states, population was determined by adding the "whole number of free persons" and "three-fifths of all other persons." The phrase "all other persons" meant slaves. In addition to adopting the Three-Fifths Compromise, the delegates to the Convention allowed the slave trade to continue by denying Congress the power to prohibit it before 1808 and agreed that fugitive slaves should be returned to their masters.
Compromise over the presidency
The Convention accepted a one-person executive but hotly debated how the president should be elected (by Congress or the people) and the term of office. The solution was the Electoral College. The legislatures of each state chose electors equal to their total number of representatives in Congress. The electors then voted for two people, one of whom could not be from their state. The individual who received the most votes became president and the person with the next highest total became vice president. In the event of a tie, the House of Representatives decided the election and each state had one vote. The president's term of office was set at four years, and no express limit was put on the number of terms.
It was needed to keep the colonies bonded as a confederation, later a federation, as they had no great desire to work together having divergent iterests. The common ground was fear of a return of the British in force to reinforce their hold over the colonies. The following gives you the details of what happened.
The Constitutional Convention (25 May - 17 September 1787) was a meeting of US state delegates in Pennsylvania.
Background and Significance: It was originally intended to address the issues that had arisen with the predecessor to the US Constitution, the Articles of the Confederation that had been completed in 1777 and ratified by all 13 original states by 1781. These issues had become particularly important to address following Shays' Rebellion, an uprising of Massachusetts farmers who protested mortgage foreclosures and tax collections, and through it, civil and economic injustice. These farmers, following a Continental Army veteran who had fought in the American Revolutionary War, Daniel Shay, attempted to capture the Springfield federal arsenal but were stopped by the state militia. While the US as a whole was not threatened by this event, and thus a physical convention may not have been necessary, politicians of the time including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton used it as justification to reassess the Articles of the Confederation and ideally replace it with a new Constitution that consolidated and increased federal power.
The Convention and its Significance: Many states at the time did not feel this event to be necessary - when the convention first opened, only the delegates from two states, Virginia and Pennsylvania were there. It took around 10 more days for 5 more states to send delegates, many coming with the excuse that they had been met with 'poor weather' to explain their indecisiveness about attending. Rhode Island however, entirely boycotted the convention (and only ratified the new constitution when it was promised that a Bill of rights would be included), and notable founding fathers/signatories of the Declaration of Independence refused their invitations to attend, namely john Hancock, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry who said that he chose not to participate in proceedings because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy” - in this, it can be seen that some contemporary politicians viewed the convention as unnecessary because the enhancement of federal power and personal power of George Washington leaned too heavily towards a return to the tyrannical rule of monarchical Great Britain. By the end of the convention, only 39 of the 55 delegates (there was meant to be a total of 74) who participated in the Constitution signed it. 3 of the 4 delegates from New York were so diametrically opposed to what was outlined therein that they left, leaving the state without the quorum (or legitimate ability) to vote and proving that for that 3/4 of the delegation (the fourth being the staunch supporter Alexander Hamilton), the document was so unnecessary it would have been moral unjust to consider and three further delegates—Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia—were so dissatisfied with the final document, they too deemed it unjust and unnecessary and refused to sign it.
Legacy and Significance: These changes that were included in the new constitution were proof that it may be considered necessary as it begun to address some of the problems the US government and country were facing and offered up solutions and loopholes for solutions for the years to come:
- The agreement between northern and southern delegates to empower Congress to end the slave trade starting in 1808
- The committee also shortened the president's term from seven years to four years, freed the president to seek re-election after an initial term. Prior to the convention, the president would be chosen by Congress; the decision to have the president be chosen instead by an electoral college reduced the chance of the president becoming beholden to Congress, so a shorter term with eligibility for re-election became a viable option.
- Moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate and added "high crimes and misdemeanors" to the impeachment clause.
- They also created the office of the vice president, whose only roles were to succeed a president unable to complete a term of office, to preside over the Senate, and to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate.
- They included a second method for ratification of amendments. At first, the constitution had included only one mechanism for constitutional amendment, in which two-thirds of the states had to ask Congress to convene a convention for consideration of amendments. After considerable debate, the Convention added back the method whereby Congress would propose amendments that the states would then ratify - this was necessary as all amendments bar the 21st came about in this latter way.
- Brought up discussion of a Bill of Rights. Originally the Articles of the Confederation and especially early drafts of the new Constitution were quite vague, and without the dissent towards the new Constitution, there may have been fewer and more unsuccessful calls for the rights of citizens and states to be outlined as well, which was necessary for the nuanced running of a country and the protection of freedoms and civil liberties.
So, the conditions that led to the Constitutional Convention may not have made is necessary, and many in attendance agreed the changes to be proposed were not essential, but the Constitution ultimately written out and ratified by the conventional was needed to clearly define federal power, to change some of the systems that were becoming increasingly dysfunctional and to offer up a clearer method for future amendment meant the US as a whole did in fact need the Constitutional Convention.
The Constitutional Convention was a convention made up of 13 people. It was important because they secretly helped build the Constitution and decided on our government plans.
The United States constitutional convention also knows as Philadelphia convention took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, in order to discuss possible improvements to the Articles of Confederation
OBJECTIVES/ AIMS OF THE CONVENTION
- Revise the articles of the confederation.
- To create a new government rather than to fix the existing one.
The US Constitutional Convention of 1787 intended to revise the Articles of Confederation (1781), which was the ratified agreement between the original 13 colonies and served as its constitution. The purpose of these Articles was to create a Confederation of States that ensured each states' right to "sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right... not... expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled". This meant that every state was as independent as possible with Congress being responsible for things such as defence, the security of liberties, and general welfare.
However, Congress realised that there were many issues that were not able to be fixed under the form of government that the Articles had set out. Many of these issues were brought up in the Annapolis Convention of 1786. These were:
- All states had one vote in Congress regardless of size
- Congress could not tax
- Congress could not regulate foreign and inter-state trade
- There was no executive branch of government to enforce any acts passed by Congress (the legislative branch)
- There was no national court system (absent judicial branch)
- Amendments to the Articles of Confederation required all states to agree
- Laws required a 9/13 majority to pass
The failure of Congress to gather a combined military force against the Shay Rebellion of 1786 also demonstrated the weakness of the Articles of Confederation.
A meeting was scheduled in Philadelphia for May 25, 1787. This became the Constitutional Convention. It was here where it was realised that simply changing the Articles would not work. Instead, the Articles would have to be replaced by a new United States Constitution to set up a new structure of national government.